Alleged gunman pleads not guilty to shotgun shootout with Bellingham police

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDSeptember 9, 2013 

Pastor Lopez-Franco

Pastor Lopez-Franco, 20, makes his first appearance in Whatcom County Superior Court on Monday, Sept. 9, on charges of holding up a Bellingham gas station, leading police on a high-speed chase and firing four shotgun rounds at pursuing officers. Lopez-Franco, a resident of Brewster, had spent the last month in Harborview Medical Center with bullet wounds. His bail was set at $1.5 million.

MATT MCDONALD — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

BELLINGHAM - A man accused of shooting at police during a high-speed chase on Mount Baker Highway last month had been deported three times in the past, according to the Whatcom County prosecutor.

Pastor Lopez-Franco, 20, made his first appearance in court Monday, Sept. 9, more than a month after officers shot him several times to end the shootout. On Monday, a court interpreter read the charges to him in Spanish as he sat in a wheelchair, with a sling on his right arm and a cast on his left leg.

Prosecutors allege Lopez-Franco, 20, stuck a shotgun barrel in the face of a Bellingham gas station clerk in the late afternoon of Aug. 8. Afterward, he and Rafael Martinez-Garcia, 25, led police up Mount Baker Highway while firing shotgun rounds out the driver's side window, according to the charges filed in Whatcom County Superior Court.

They crashed in a roundabout at East Smith Road. Lopez-Franco got out and kept firing, said Prosecutor Dave McEachran. Officers returned fire, hitting Lopez-Franco several times. No officers were hurt.

For the past few weeks doctors treated Lopez-Franco at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. Whatcom County contracted with the King County Sheriff's Office to make sure he stayed under supervision 24 hours a day.

A jail guard wheeled Lopez-Franco to a courtroom podium Monday afternoon for a hearing in front of Superior Court Commissioner Leon Henley, who set bail at $1.5 million.

Before the robbery, Lopez-Franco had been deported from the United States three times - "indicative of some of the porosity problems common of our border," McEachran said. Most recently he worked on a farm in Brewster.

Martinez-Garcia is a U.S. citizen, the prosecutor added. He's also a sex offender with a rape conviction on his record.

Both men stand accused of first-degree robbery, four counts of first-degree assault and attempting to elude police. Martinez-Garcia already has pleaded not guilty and remains in jail on the same bail amount.

Reach Caleb Hutton at 360-715-2276 or caleb.hutton@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Dispatcher Blog at bellinghamherald.com/dispatcher-blog or follow him on Twitter at @bhamcrime.

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